Southeast Asian nations are taking bolder steps toward reopening their borders as the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme expands to more countries and cities within the region, which has seen one of the slowest recoveries in international flying.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), which pioneered VTLs, is widening its scheme to more cities and allowing inbound VTL flights from two more countries: Vietnam and Greece.
CAAS is expanding its VTL partnership with Malaysia to include Penang (PEN), and Indonesia to include Bali (DPS), while also widening the scheme in India to include incoming flights from all cities in that country.
The timing of the VTL flights with Vietnam in mid-March coincides with Hanoi’s plan to finally open its borders to international tourists from March 15. The VTL represents Vietnam’s first such liberalized travel arrangement. The country spent much of the pandemic locked off from the rest of the world as it aspired to a zero-COVID target.
CAAS said 456,215 travelers have entered Singapore (SIN) via the VTL flights since the scheme opened and 348,518 vaccinated travel passes have been issued to non-citizens to travel via the lanes. Singapore Airlines Group has added 18 new VTL routes following the latest relaxation, bringing the total number of VTL cities connected with Singapore to 66, spread across 27 countries.
Meanwhile, the Thai government has approved the start of VTL flights between the kingdom and India during March. Commercial flights between the two countries have been suspended since March 2020, when Thailand shut its borders as the coronavirus outbreak spread. Bangkok has also agreed to “expedite” the launch of VTL flights with Malaysia. Plans to resume air services between the neighboring countries followed a state visit by the Malaysian prime minister to Thailand at the end of February.
Due to varying healthcare capacity, tolerance for risk and vaccination statuses, travel between Southeast Asian nations has been slower to return that in most other economic blocs. In late 2021 efforts to relax measures hit a stumbling block with the omicron variant but, as the effects of the coronavirus strain were less severe than initially feared, governments are now once again working to facilitate travel.